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Ask Alex: Steelers Mailbag

Welcome back to the mailbag. Unfortunately, the Steelers are down two players after yesterday’s practice, losing TE Jake McGee for the year and potentially Jerald Hawkins too. Hopefully the rest of the spring gives us a quieter medical report.

We’ll be here for the next hour. To your questions!

Spencer Krick: 

Happy Thursday Alex!

Would you say the two big camp battles now are at WR and QB?

Alex: There’s definitely some good battles there. I don’t know if I have a good definition for what the biggest ones are, especially when we’re talking about depth in those spots, not so much starters. There’s depth battles everywhere. Along the DL (who will get the 6th spot?), OLB (wide open), ILB, RB, it’s there in a lot of places. I guess the good thing for the Steelers is that there aren’t many starting spots up for grabs right now, although the rookies like James Washington and Terrell Edmunds need to earn their playing time.

falconsaftey43: Alex, you plan on doing any articles on early Steelers players again? I always enjoy those. I was looking at Buddy Dial the other day after a commentor mentioned him. I knew nothing about him, what a great Steelers WR!

Alex: Possibly! David O has done some really good articles on the pre-Noll players and coaches. They are a lot of fun to explore but they take a long time to research. Hopefully I’ll get to one or two of them this offseason.

AB: 

Hey Alex,

In no way do I mean this in a negative, or cold-hearted way, but if Shazier is still recovering next year and not close to playing the full speed of the game, at what point do you think the Steelers move on and regain the roster space? Or do you think they can ask Goddell for an exception due to circumstances if possible?

Alex: That’s a very fair question to ask. I get were you’re coming from. His contract should toll next year and they’ll keep him around for cheap (that’s why they re-did his contract). So carrying him through 2019 shouldn’t be a problem. If Shazier isn’t recovered for the start of 2020, then I’m sure to him, it’ll be pretty clear that the chance of playing football is out the window. And there probably won’t have to be a decision to be made – retiring will just be the reality.

I know a lot of people say they never hope Shazier doesn’t play again. And I understand the sentiment behind it. But I’m not really in that camp. I hope he recovers enough and healthy enough to have the choice of whether or not he wants to play football again. And I’ll support that decision either way.

D.j. Reynolds: Hey Alex, who is your prediction for a breakout player this year (I don’t care whether vet or rookie)?

Alex: That’s a good question. I’m excited for what Vance McDonald can bring to this offense. The athletic element they’ve been searching for post-Heath Miller. If he’s healthy, he’ll have a strong season.

There are plenty of players who need to have breakout years, that’s for sure. Artie, Davis, Dupree, time for those guys to step up. But I’m less confident in predicting it.

Matt Manzo: Hey Alex!
What do you think the best piece of news coming out of OTAs was?

Alex: Well I was going to say good health…then yesterday happened. I wasn’t at OTAs so I don’t have as good of a gauge on what was good/bad news. And most of the reporters can’t say much anyway.

Mason Rudolph sure seems impressive though. The demeanor, attitude, confidence of someone capable of starting someday. That doesn’t make for a guarantee obviously but it’s a strong foundation to build upon. You guys know I wasn’t a fan of the pick but it’s hard not to get at least a little giddy hearing him talk and the way he carries himself. Previous Steelers rookies who have had that demeanor, DeCastro and Pouncey come to mind, panned out.

I also liked hearing about the OLBs moving around. I agree they were too static last year. Matchups too predictable. There are some concerns about Dupree on the ROLB if Butler is going to drop that spot as much as he has (around 30-35% of the time) but I like adding another layer of versatility. It’s not all about the different sub-packages and personnel groupings but the ability to line up the same look in multiple ways. That’s what makes an offensive coordinator really good. Not having 1,000 different playcalls. But having effective ones that can be run out of different looks. Easy for the offense to digest, it’s all the same concept, but the defense doesn’t know what’s coming.

NickSteelerFan: Happy OTA’s Alex!
Who do you think leads the team at the end of the year in sacks, interceptions and tackles?

Alex: My guesses.

Sacks: Heyward – easy answer. Watt will still drop too much for the sack lead. I think Heyward finishes with 10.

Interceptions: that one is tough. Not a lot of ballhawks in the secondary and it’s easier to throw away from Joe Haden. I’ll say Sean Davis with three. But it’s a crap shoot.

Tackles: Jon Bostic – for the every-down basis he’ll play on, unlike any of the other guys in the front 7. 101 total tackles.

renoir: Just frightened trying to locate where sacks are gonna come from this year…Please soothe my mind and tell me know how awesome our sack totals are gonna be…

Alex: Ha, I’m nervous too. Watt will play well but if he’s dropping 30% like last year, he’s going to miss out on some of the opportunities. Dupree is up in the air. And Butler blitzed at an all-time low last year.

I do think a lot of the sacks are just about finishing plays. Dupree has had that issue, Tuitt has definitely dealt with that issue. In theory, those guys could have had five more sacks last year. Maybe that will help you out.

Jeremy: Howdy Alex! Lets say the Steelers decide to add 1 more FA who will be a borderline starter. Which position group do they add that vet to as things stand right now? OL, ILB, OLB, or where?

Alex: I guess ILB? But I’m not expecting them to do much of anything from now until we’re knee-deep in the preseason. Roll with the guys you have, evaluate their play, adjust to injuries, and see what’s available.

I think there’s a chance they go out and get another OLB. A backup/rotational guy and not someone in the starting mix but there’s gotta be more depth behind Dupree and Watt. I have mentioned Shane Ray before. Maybe John Simon, if his transition to DE with the Colts doesn’t work out. Steelers brought him in for a visit when he was coming out of Ohio State. I don’t think you can roll with the group they have unless these young guys absolutely blow you away.

Bill Sechrengost: I have read about the quarterback battle and have seen several people suggesting release or trade of Landry Jones. Do yo really think the Steelers would go into the season with two backup QB’s that have never played a down in the regular season?

Alex: Sure, I think it’s possible. What is going to happen in 2019? Jones is gone after this year. Ideally, Rudolph wouldn’t have played a snap. You’re likely either in that situation now or a year from now.

No one commanded the Steelers to take QBs fairly high in back-to-back years. But when you do that, a scenario like that has a good chance of playing out.

Of course, I hope no one is suggesting moving Jones now. If it happens, it’ll be very late in the process. Rudolph and Dobbs have to play well too – those are givens. But as I’ve written about, I don’t completely rule it out. Either you dump Jones this year or after this offseason. He’s been deemed expendable.

Darth Blount 47: Objectively speaking, which team has the best roster, top-to-bottom in the AFC? How about the NFC?

Alex: Ah that’s tough. I’ve barely soaked in all the roster changes to give a good enough answer. If Blake Bortles can just not be…awful, they have a great roster across the board. New England will be the favorites of course, and as they should be.

NFC? Give me Green Bay with Aaron Rodgers back. Not betting against him. They have been more aggressive in FA and have some up and comers like Aaron Jones in the backfield. Did a great job upgrading the secondary too.

Marcel Chris Chauvet: Alex, what odds do you give Marcus Tucker to make the 53 man roster?

Alex: I don’t have a percentage on it. Bringing back Eli Rogers dings those odds because they are similar guys, though Tucker can play on the outside and gunner, two things Rogers doesn’t’/can’t do. But let’s assume Eli returns. You’re keeping.

1. AB
2. JuJu
3. Washington
4. DHB
5. Eli

That’s leaving maybe one spot left though the team could also comfortably keep five. So you have Tucker, Justin Hunter, and whoever else emerges (Henderson, Griffey, Jones, Patterson). So Tucker is going to have to have a great camp to get him over the hump. I think he’ll be a tough cut for all he brings to the table. Dude has a chance and he’s earned it.

mem359: What exactly does “non-contact” mean? I assume that just refers to contact between 2 players? Wondering what might have caused torn quadriceps. (I could imagine weight-lifting too much, or slamming into a blocking sled or bag.)

Alex: This is referring to Jerald Hawkins’ injury, for those unaware. It means just that…there was no contact on the injury. No one rolled into him or anything. I wasn’t there for it but I am guessing he just stepped wrong, the way it often happens with ACLs. The torn quad is a pretty rare/weird one though, especially for a non-contact drill, but I guess it happened. Ramon Foster said he heard him screaming in pain so yeah, not good.

Peki: Hi Alex. Now that the book is closed on Martavis Bryant’s career as a Steeler, where do you rank him among the likes of Mike Wallace and Plaxico Burress? Playing with Brown and Bell, he didn’t get the attention or targets of the other two, but I personally prefer to him Wallace as a player. How would you evaluate his years in Pittsburgh compared with these two, and do you think the Steelers sold high to get a 3rd for him? Thanks!

Alex: I think he’s in that Mike Wallace category. Below him because Wallace had much better numbers and was available, something Bryant routinely was not. But they were the one-trick ponies whose game didn’t evolve enough (Bryant has the talent to be complete, Wallace did not) during their time in Pittsburgh. He’s below Wallace and Burress in my book but cut from a similar cloth.

Getting a 3rd for Bryant floored me. Risky more by Gruden. A guy with his baggage, last year of his deal, a game that isn’t complete, that’s pretty much how Colbert described it too. They didn’t want to trade Bryant, teams weren’t offering anything good for him and the Raiders just went all-in. That was too tough to pass up.

Doogie: Can I take my dogs to training camp?? hehe, but really, I might if allowed.. its a little dog..

Alex: Unfortunately, I think Spot will have to hang out at home. According to this, pets are not allowed at camp.

  • No video cameras, alcohol, grills, or pets allowed.
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